When five-year-old Julia Beckett first saw Greywethers, an old slate-roof farmhouse in Exbury, out-of-the-way English village, it was love at first sight. “That’s my house,” she told her brother Tom. Years later, she happened upon the house again and immediately bought it.
Not long after moving in, she realizes that her instant feeling of ownership might not have been a presentiment about her future, but a memory from long past. She begins having flashbacks to the 17th century in which she remembers herself as a woman named Mariana who lived in Greywethers and fell in love with Richard de Mourney, the lord of the nearby manor. In the present, Julia is also forming a bond with Geoffrey de Mourney, the current owner of the manor house, as well as close friendships with Vivien, the owner of the local pub, and Iain, who tends the grounds of the manor. Their instant rapport feels to Julia like an echo of Mariana’s past friendships. Are the dead returning to Exbury?
Mariana, one of Susanna Kearsley’s first novels, is being rereleased this week by Sourcebooks, and it’s a fine romance in the tradition of Mary Stewart and Daphne Du Maurier, but with perhaps a little more sweetness and a little less darkness than I expect from those authors.
The trips to the past take place during the Restoration. Mariana has come to Exbury to escape the plague in London. She’s in the care of her uncle Jabez, a brutal and abusive man who allows her little freedom. As Julia continues to inhabit Mariana’s life, she comes to care deeply about Mariana and her companions, despite the danger her visits bring her. When she’s immersed in a flashback, she could wander anywhere that Mariana might have gone because she sees only what Mariana saw.
Aside from the troubling flashbacks, which Julia gradually learns to control, Julia’s present-day life is almost wholly pleasant. Her friendships and family relationships are secure and happy, and she’s being successfully wooed by the swoon-worthy Geoff. (I did roll my eyes a bit when Julia literally did swoon upon first meeting him.) Everyone adores everyone else, and there’s always someone ready to sit down with a pint of beer or a cup of tea. It’s perhaps a little too perfect, and I didn’t exactly believe in Julia’s life, but it was fun to read about!
This was my first time reading one of Kearsley’s novels, and Eva warned me that, being an early Kearsley, it’s not up to the same level as her later books. (Her favorites are The Rose Garden and Shadowy Horses.) If that’s the case, I’m definitely going to try more of her books because I had a lot of fun reading this—and the romance was stunning.
Speaking of the romance, I’m dying to discuss it with someone who’s read it because OMG! I had a niggling itchy feeling about the direction the book was taking throughout, but I was fine with it. It was a happy enough story, even if it didn’t blow me away. And then it turned into something so perfect. Sappy as can be, but exactly what I wanted. But maybe cheating a little for dramatic effect? Not that I care if it was cheating because it made my inner romantic melt, and my inner romantic generally has a heart of stone. I’ll say no more, but if you’ve read it, let’s discuss in the comments.